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Meet Anonymous Without the Masks in this VICELAND Documentary

VICELAND’s new documentary series CYBERWAR debuts with a look inside Anonymous.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Jul 1 2016, 4:00pm

You know its name. You've heard its voice. And, so to speak, you've seen its face.

The hacking group Anonymous has become a household name in the world of hacking and cybersecurity. The group's symbols—a headless man in a suit, and the iconic Guy Fawkes' mask from V for Vendetta—have been ubiquitous in newscasts and articles over the years.

But before the headline-grabbing trolling and hacking operations, and the countless "declarations of war" on YouTube, Anonymous was born on the infamous internet forum 4chan, as an underground prank group. The evolution of Anonymous as we know it today started when the group targeted the Church of Scientology in 2008, and slowly became an hacktivist political movement.

Anonymous' peak came arguably around 2010 and 2011, when the group launched a massive hacking operation in defense of WikiLeaks called Op Payback. For Biella Coleman, an anthropologist and Anonymous scholar, that was "the largest protest DDoS [Distributed Denial of Service] that the internet has ever seen."

The group's fame has always been bigger than any of its members, which, after all, was precisely the point.

It was so big, and the targets—Mastercard and Paypal—were so high profile, that it attracted the attention of the authorities, and the arrests soon ensued. The group's fame has always been bigger than any of its members, which, after all, was precisely the point. But those arrests and trials reminded the world that behind the proverbial masks, and the computer screens, there were real people. Those arrests, in a way, changed Anonymous forever. Years later, the group is still active, but even more amorphous, decentralized and unpredictable than before, and perhaps less incisive and effective.

In the last few months, former Motherboard editor Ben Makuch has met and talked with several of the faces behind the myth, trying to figure out who Anonymous was, and who it has become.

The debut episode of VICELAND's new series CYBERWAR, "Who is Anonymous?," airs on July 5 at 11:00 p.m. ET.

And if you want to dig even deeper into the fascinating world of the most famous hacking group in the world, read some of Motherboard's best articles about Anonymous:

This post has been updated to remove the link to the full episode, which is not available online anymore.